After an exciting and varied week in Mexico City, it was time to say goodbye again and continue my tour. I will certainly remember the great encounters and the wonderful time with newly made friends for a long time.
Willy from Germany, whom I had met on my trip in La Paz, was in Mexico City at the same time and wanted to take the same route as me, so we decided without further ado to travel the next kilometers together. Octavio from Mexico, who is also a “Cicloviajero”, also accompanied us the first two days on the way to the famous volcano Popocatepetl. Willy spent the time in Mexico City in Octavio’s guest house. So the three of us set off, one way out of town, to Amecameca, 60km away, at the foot of the Popo. Although 60km is not very far, we reached our destination only in the evening, due to all the traffic and some obstacles. On the way, we could always catch glimpses of the smoke billowing for kilometers from the Popocatepetl. We spent the night in a restaurant and early the next day we drove towards Paso de Cortes, the pass that lies between the two volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, the second and third highest mountains in Mexico. This was the first time for me to ride my bike up to almost 4000 meters. Passing the 3000 meter mark, I suddenly felt quite exhausted. After half an hour, the fatigue faded. Up to the highest point at 3700 meters, I felt absolutely full of energy. A female dog accompanied us all the way to the top point. Every hundred meters she stopped and waited dutifully for us.
With the heavily armed policemen at the mountain station I first made a few pictures. 10 people guard the pass day after day. Since there is not much going on up there except for the weekends, they will certainly not perish from overwork. Proudly they showed me pictures of how they were racing their quads along the sandy tracks and hiking in the countryside. In the long run it is a bit lonely and the container is not very comfortable and warm to stay overnight. But for it one of the most breathtaking jobs, mental relaxation inclusive.
With Willy and Octavio we celebrated our mountain conquest with a festive menu by our standards. As soon as the sun went down it got really cold, so that I had to unpack my winter jacket and gloves for the first time on my trip. Then during the night the temperature dropped below -5°C. The next morning it was quite an overcoming to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag and out of the tent. From Octavio I learned a new word “pinche frio” to match the temperatures.
As the morning warmed up, Octavio said goodbye to us and headed back to Mexico City, while Willy and I drove down the other side of the pass to Puebla.
I am happy to call Octavio another friend in Mexico.
Willy’s and my journey now continued to Oaxaca about 500 km south of Mexico City. A few days after our pass crossing I felt totally weak, so we had to take a hotel to spend a more comfortable night. Over the night my malaise then developed into a proper flu. Sure, it’s never great to be sick on a trip, but on such a long tour, it probably catches everyone at some point. So it happened that we took a break day so that I could recover a bit. The only downside of this place was that we were in the middle of the “Triangolo Rojo (red triangle)”, one of the most dangerous regions in Mexico. Not only is there a lot of robbery and gang activity, but the whole region is very poor, desolate, and quite filthy.
The day after next, I had a bit more energy again and we set out to leave this somewhat oppressive place. The next two days were not only extremely exhausting, but also, due to the desolate environment, not exactly motivating. In the ranking of the ugliest places of my tour so far, these days top my list. In the barren landscape, there were except for numerous abandoned trucks and countless dead dogs on the roadside, hardly anything to see. We counted more than 15 dog carcasses in one day.
Despite this desolate area, the people we met were very open-minded, nice and helpful. An entrepreneur of a metal processing company showed us around his business and a young amateur cyclist gave us escort on an extremely busy road.
After the city of Tehuacan, the landscape changed. It became more mountainous and we drove along extensive canyons and beautiful valleys. In addition, it was now also much warmer again. One evening we pitched our tents in front of a gas station. Willy, who sleeps so deeply that he would even sleep through a nuclear attack, was rested and rested the next morning. I, who hears every mosquito coughing, didn’t get a wink of sleep at the noise of the trucks and buses, which seemed to drive only at night, and was accordingly totally exhausted.
In Oaxaca we spent two days with our Warmshowers host Margeaux from France. Willy, whose passion is cooking and learning new recipes, cooked us a fabulous meal one evening. Willy wants to write a cookbook after his tour with all the different recipes he learns on the tour. But more about that later.
With Margeaux we went out in the evening to make the salsa scene of Oaxaca unsafe. Although I have many talents, dancing is not one of them. Hopefully I will have the chance to learn some basic steps during my tour, because I love music and movement.
Since I had already booked a Spanish course in Antigua weeks ago, I had to be in Antigua Guatemala by February 20. From Oaxaca to Tapachula, in the south of Mexico, there was a very good bus connection, so I decided to shorten part of my tour to be in Antigua on time for the start of the course.
Willy, whose bike was already showing several signs of fatigue, decided to ride with me to continue traveling through Guatemala together. Tapachula felt much more like a Caribbean city and had little to do with the Mexico I had experienced before; multicultural and full of Latino music. Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis and all the nations of Central America were represented.
After three months in this huge, incredibly diverse and beautiful country, it was clear that a new chapter of the journey was now waiting for me. When I think of my experiences in Mexico like this, I have many great memories. Mexico will definitely remain in my memory as a country of diverse nature, varied, delicious food “Qué rico” and especially as a country of warm and helpful people.
The border crossing the next day to Guatemala was relaxed and without complications.
After three months of driving through Mexico, gigantic cities with pulsating traffic, challenging mountain stages and exhausting thirsty stretches through the desert, I thought that nothing could surprise me so quickly.
I had not thought that such a cultural change would take place so quickly after crossing the border.
Not only that you often have to overcome passes in Guatemala that are over 3000 meters high and go up the mountain vertically. On the way to the summit there are also always some intermediate descents, so that you ultimately have to conquer a multiple of the climb. The roads are to a large extent in a miserable condition and I think I have never had to take several breaks on a downhill ride to let my brakes cool down.
In the evening I was often very exhausted and tired, because the traffic, the partly extreme background noise, the permanent concentration requirement and the continuous up- and downhills, brought me again and again to the limit.
Compared to Mexico, Guatemala seems like a third world country. For example, when I was on the road in Quetzeltanango in the evening, I experienced a complete power outage. From one moment to the next it was pitch black. Except for some stores, which probably had an emergency power supply, the whole city was pitch black. In this darkness I wandered with my cell phone flashlight to the hotel. About an hour later, all the lights came back on and everything behaved as if nothing had happened.
Guatemala is also a country of warm and open-minded people. Willy and I had great encounters with locals every day, who gave us food, water, medicine for our stomachs or even money for dinner, and that even though people here hardly own anything. We were waved at, called from the car with a smile and so many children were excited to see us.
In addition, the nature is breathtakingly beautiful. The country is dotted with countless volcanoes, some of which rise over 4000 meters from the surrounding area.
It is also amazing that the roads often run directly over the mountain ridges, so that we not infrequently cracked the 3000 meter mark.
Willy and I had a totally crazy experience in a small town called Palestina de los Altos, which is located at almost 3000 meters and probably has the highest amusement park in the world. There were lots of food stalls, colorful booths, and some Ferris wheels that would never meet the safety standards of a German amusement park. The crazy thing was that the Ferris wheels were powered by a car, or rather, a completely cannibalized car that only had the driver’s seat and the engine left. The entire Ferris wheel was driven by pulleys and oversized belts. The driver of the car started the engine, shifted through the gears and accelerated. Squealing, the Ferris wheel started to move and accelerated to hair-raising speed.
At Lago de Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes, we spent time in the hippie town of San Marcos de la Laguna and stayed with Jose Pablo who had emigrated from Chile to Guatemala to open a joga studio at Lago de Atitlan. Through Warmshowers we became aware of him and stayed in his studio in a beautiful tropical garden right on the shore of the lake. We were not the only cyclists and met two Danes, Mikkel and Gustav, who were on their way from Mexico to Panama with their bikes. On the evening of our arrival, we walked through the narrow streets of the small town, up the steep hill to Eagle’s Nest. As if in a maze, we walked in single file after Jose and after half an hour reached a beautiful place built like a tree house into the rock face and partly in the trees. There was a large platform where agro-yoga was practiced, a nice lounge area with a restaurant, a sauna and small pools to cool off. The sunset, the lake and the volcanoes in the evening red made a fantastic picture.
The next day Jose showed us rock cliffs from which you could jump into the lake. We plunged more than 10 meters into the depths. At first it was a bit of an overcoming, but then I didn’t want to stop. The nature of Lago de Atitlan is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Guatemala.
I could have spent a few more days in this place, but the Spanish course in Antigua was waiting for me, so I went to Antigua alone the next day to start my two-week course the following day. Willy stayed with the two Danes for a few days, but then also went to Antigua, where we met often, but more about that in the next chapter!
My trip with Willy, has been super fun. We both harmonized very well and I am happy to have gained in him a friend on whom I can rely. Willy is a passionate cook, which I have experienced and tasted several times. He is writing a cookbook with all the recipes from his trip and entertaining anecdotes from his experiences on his tour. Starting in March, he will continue his trip to Argentina with his wife, whom he met and married in California. Feel free to visit his blog where he writes in detail about his experiences. I can absolutely recommend and is amusingly written.